Something was amiss. He knew as soon as he stepped inside the door. Handing his bag to Hariprakash, Arnav walked to the living room anxiously. It was Khushi, he knew. For a long time now, he had given up denying the instincts which told him about her, when she was near, when she was angry, when she was upset. And now his instincts told him to rush to her as soon as he could. That something might slip out of his hands if he did not hurry.
Khushi sat alone on the sofa, hunched over something – stiff, silent and unmoving. He moved towards her. His footsteps echoed in the room. Yet she did not look up – no, did not even twitch. Whatever it was in her lap held all her attention.
The sound of her name made her jerk up and for a moment his steps faltered. Panic and fear swam in her eyes; distress and helplessness called out to him.
‘What is it?’ he rushed over, coming down next to her, following the stiff line of her body – wide fearful eyes, rigid shoulders, a stiff arm, a white shaking finger resting on a photograph – on him, the face of the devil that still haunted their lives.
Had the blasted man accomplished what ASR could not? What none of them could? Snatched away the precious time with Khush that he had stolen from fate? Could it be that he had reached beyond the grave to shatter the fragile happiness they were all slowly settling into? Khushi had clearly remembered something…what did she remember?
Arnav looked up into Khushi’s eyes once again. There was distress and fear, and questions …. Questions he realized he could no longer evade; questions he should answer before she drew her own conclusions and shut him out once again. Instinctively he reached out to hold her white hand that pointed at the photograph and squeezed it to calm her.
‘Di’s husband?’ hundreds of ugly thoughts swarmed in Khushi’s mind. She knew the man from her nightmares. He was the one who had played with her cruelly; the one who had almost ran her over with the car, the one whom she had led over the bridge… she had killed him! Khushi closed her eyes, the horrible thought left her speechless.
Arnav did not like it when she closed her eyes. It made him feel shut out …as if she had withdrawn into that place within herself where he could not reach howsoever much he tried. He sought to bring her back to him…anything to bring her back and make her stay.
‘Yes, Khushi. Shyam Manohar Jha. Di’s dead husband,’ he answered and saw her flinch. He tightened his grip on her hand. ‘You…you remember him.’
Khushi did not know how to answer the simple question. Did she remember him? She remembered the face in her nightmares. She could feel the panic in her heart when she saw him, disgust rolled off her in waves at the sound of his name. ‘He was the man in my dreams. He..’ she looked at her husband helplessly. How does one put into words something so blasphemous, so ugly, so utterly wrong.
‘He was in the car.’ Khushi stopped.
Her eyes demanded him to speak. To tell her about the past or be damned.
‘Shyam Manohar Jha was married to Di. He was a good husband to her, good to all of us because we had what he wanted…money, position in society. So he stuck to Di like a leech mostly for her money. But when he saw you, he took a liking to you,’ he heard her gasp and continued. ‘He had been fooling your family too, living in your house as a paying guest, as a bachelor…even got engaged to you before…before you found him out. And then about a year ago, he kidnapped me. Wanted to make me sign the documents which would have transferred everything I owned to his name. But…you, Khushi…you along with Mami and NK, my cousin…you all spoilt his plans. You found me, Khushi…but that day, the day …I …before we could get away, he took you away, Khushi. Took you away before I could reach you, away from me…all of us.’
Khushi sat silently, trying to assimilate the shocking bits of information.
‘That is why I did not know that you were in Lucknow. We tried to find you everywhere…all around the places where he had held me, went through his accomplices, the places he frequented in Delhi. There was no sign of either of you,’ he looked directly into her eyes, willing her to believe him. ‘Some days later, police found the car and his mangled body in the river.’ Arnav finished. Silence reigned.
Unnoticed by either, Payal had walked into the room. Now as she came to sit on the arm chair, Khushi turned to her sister whose eyes were fixed on Arnav. ‘Jiji,’ Khushi called out to her.
Payal nodded jerkily. ‘Yes, what Arnavji says is true Khushi. Shyam…Shyam was responsible for all…for most of the things that went wrong last year.’
Arnav did not miss the implications behind Payal’s words – the man was not responsible for all, but most of the things that went wrong…but then, at present such nuances did not concern him. His entire being was concentrated on the bewildered girl sitting next to him. He could hear her mind processing the skeletal sketch of the past he had painted for her, glossing over its harsh details. Khushi would draw her own conclusions…he dreaded the uncomfortable questions that would soon come.
Khushi heard her sister’s words corroborate Arnavji’s story. Not that she doubted it for a second. She had known that he was telling her the truth. She had seen it in the distress in his eyes. Then what had she asked her sister…perhaps she wanted Jiji to add something more…there must be something more. Arnav’s story was…was too…she didn’t know how to put in words…but it raised as many questions as it answered. And she wondered if Jiji would fill in some of the blanks.
But Payal did not. Perhaps there was nothing more to it. What she learnt was traumatic enough…was it this…this truth and then the shock of being in such a situation where someone attempted to kill her…where she ended up killing someone …was it this that had led her mind to shut down? And now, if she knew everything, why was her mind still not able to recreate these scenes of the past?
‘Khushi, don’t worry about all that now. The past, it is over. Thankfully the man can do no harm. And you are with us,’ Arnav took his cup of coffee from Hariprakash. ‘We need to go for the doctor’s appointment.’
Khushi nodded, as new questions formed in her mind. Payal drew her attention. ‘Yes Khushi, you have to see the doctor. Go tell Dadi that you …you two would be leaving soon.’
Too preoccupied to see through Payal’s ruse to send her away, Khushi walked to Nani’s room, the sound of her walking stick growing distant.
Arnav narrowed his eyes as Payal looked at him accusingly. ‘You should tell her the whole thing…Khushi has the right to know the whole thing.’
‘Then she could do well to remember,’ the hateful arrogance was back. The gentle kind man who held her sister’s hand was nowhere. Payal saw ASR whom she detested.
‘You are using her condition to…to…’
‘To get my own way? You are right, Payal. Perhaps I am. Getting my own way…if that is what you think,’ he smiled at the irony of the words. ‘What do you want, Payal? I know you think I don’t deserve any forgiveness…perhaps I don’t, but I need her…and she…is in such state…that..’
‘Whatever be her state, it should be Khushi’s choice…her decision. You made the mistake of trying to protect Di without telling her anything. You took away her choice to decide about her marriage, her life…because you felt she was too weak. You took away Khushi’s choice by not giving her chance to tell her story. And now you are making the same mistake again. It should be Khushi’s choice.’
‘Payal, don’t you understand. Somethings in life are too precious to risk…even for the sake of truth. If it happened again, I would again try to protect Di. Not in the same manner. I have learnt my lesson with Khushi. But I would still protect her and Di from any pain if I can…now and in future,’ he tried to explain himself to her. ‘And tell me something, why don’t you tell her…the truth about her marriage? About her husband?’
Payal was silent. Why did she not? Because it was not her truth to tell, as she had been telling herself whenever her conscience smote her. But also because, the truth would destroy Khushi’s chances of happiness…she was afraid that it would destroy her sister, take her away from them once again. She wanted to thrust that difficult task on the man sitting in front of her. Was she also trying to protect Khushi…and herself from the difficult task of telling her the truth.
In a way, they were all hiding behind Arnav – his acceptance of his errors and his guilt – as if by thrusting the responsibility of the past on him, they were all absolved of their own errors…He loved Khushi, Payal did not doubt that and yet he risked all by willingly becoming a scapegoat for all of them. For a moment, it struck Payal…he was not so different from Khushi who had sacrificed her life for her sister and bore the burdens of the world to keep her loved ones happy. He did the same…
Arnav watched the play of emotions on Payal’s face. He wanted to mend the relations he had so callously destroyed a year ago. So he continued.
‘You know, Payal, you might not admit, but I do. When it comes to Khushi, I have become a coward,’ ASR sat back, leaning his head against the backrest, his eyes closed. ‘Cowardly and selfish. I cannot tell her the truth and watch her walk away from me. There is no way that I can risk that…I, more than all of you, because…because if that happens, you would all move on. You will miss her, there would be a void in life, but you would fill it with other things. Even Khushi, she would be hurt, and she would be unhappy for sometime…but she would make a life for herself…she did in Sheesh Mahal, didn’t she? She is strong that way but…but what will happen to me? I would not be able to move a step. I will be left behind – alone, aching, hopeless. There would be no life for me without her….no present, no future. If I can’t belong to her, then there is no point in living. I will be no one.’
Minutes ticked by. Payal was jolted, struck speechless by his admission of his weakness, his complete dependency of her sister. Never in her dreams had she thought that the hateful man whom she held responsible for her sister’s state lived with this tangled web of complicated emotions.The veil of arrogance slipped away to reveal a man who cared, was too scared to face the loss of another loved one. Payal could not help but sympathize with him.
‘You know what is said about half truths. They are more dangerous than lies. What will you do when she remembers?’ Payal could almost feel afraid for him.
Arnav shook his head. ‘I don’t know what I will do then. But i know what i want to do now. I want to make her so happy…that she believes in me…that I care…that she is my world. When the time comes, I will leave it to her…I trust her…she is generous, isn’t she? But I will not tell her…I cannot tell her myself and see my life fall apart. I am content to live in this…this small bubble of happiness. I am sorry Payal…I am selfish…selfish to my core where your sister is concerned.’
He turned away towards the direction of dadi’s room. And sure enough, the sound of Khushi’s walking stick grew louder. Her sister was not the weaker one in this relationship. She could not be defeated because she would always get up and prepare for the next battle of life. It was him…hiding behind the mask of arrogance, with all his weaknesses and insecurities that made him so harsh, ASR, with all his money and power, he was the helpless one when it came to her sister.
Payal watched Khushi as she walked backed into the room and the man came alive, literally.
‘Does di know?’ was her first question as soon as they settled down alone in the car.
He nodded. ‘Everyone knows about his true colours, Khushi. It is over. You are back. Now we can all forget him and move on.’ Arnav tried to draw her attention away from the earlier revelations.
His heart was still heavy after his confession to Payal. He had seen some relenting, some amount of forgiveness dawn in the eyes of Khushi’s sister. How he wished that he could offer similar words to Khushi, tell her all that he felt, lay bare his heart and wait for her to forgive him. But what would his mere words do when pitted against all that he had done to her in the past. How could he offer them when his actions had done so much damage – damage whose effects she still bore – in her mind, on her body. No…he had to show her…he had to fix things for her before he could ever hope for forgiveness…all that he asked for was time …a chance to change.
‘When did you know…about him….and me?’ her being revolted with very thought of being put in the same sentence as that disgusting hateful man.
‘How does it matter? Leave it, Khushi,’ he answered wearily.
‘When?’ she persisted. ‘was it before …before we married…or later?’
He did not like the train of her thoughts. He did not like where they were going.
‘Before,’ he answered harshly. ‘I knew it before we got married. Can we talk about something else?’
A silence followed the outburst – a silence in which the next question she asked echoed against the walls of his heart.
‘Then why did you marry me?’
Ok…this update and some in the next few days are going to be short and erratic. I am in the middle of shifting and then would be slightly busy till September 20. But after that, i hope to be so free that it might be two -three a week. Till then, please bear with it and dont forget ‘Unforgettable’! :-D.
And yes…amnesia stories…
Only Ghajni (suggested by Serendipitylove) and 21 days that I remembered. Of course, Lyra 99’s stories. Are they so rare? I thought Amnesia was pretty cliched! what say?